There is one singular inquiry that can turn any average 18-year-old from a wide-eyed optimist about their future to a paranoid student filled with self-doubt. When you graduate high school and decide what college you're going to attend, prepare yourself to get asked several times a day by teachers and friends, the dreaded "What are you going to major in?" From those superficial aptitude tests in high school to the time you embark on your college career, there are many things I wish someone would have told me about my all-important college major.
When I was 18 and fresh out of high school, my dream was to be the president of the United States. My senior year was filled with the 2008 presidential election and Obama's first 100 days in office. I was so inspired that I was determined to go into government. Did I know anything about international relations and national security? Not so much. But I did know that when you tell people you're going to major in Political Science, they give you an eyebrow and shut up real fast.
So many students feel pressure to choose a major that just sounds good to others or have a reputation to be particularly cosmopolitan. I am definitely guilty of this. If someone would have pulled me aside and told me that I was only distracted by the bright, shiny lights of elections and not the actual government part, I would probably be graduating in December with a degree that I am passionate about: journalism. I should have listened to my all-knowing mother's advice when she said I needed to study something I loved and excelled at because if you don't follow your heart, you won't be as happy -- even if you are successful.
College is a great experience. You get to meet diverse groups of people, there's no curfew from your parents, and you can sample some of the worst cafeteria food your university offers! And in between those festivities, you also have this thing called class. When you meet with your adviser, he or she will tell you to schedule all of your general requirement classes for your freshman and sophomore years. I, on the other hand, did not take this advice.
This is the absolute smartest thing to do in your college career. If you decide one semester, "Hey! I don't want to be an artist anymore; I want to study biology," you can do so because you have only fulfilled general classes that can be transferred to any major. The beauty is that you don't have to know what you want to be at 18! If you take predominately general classes your first two years, there is ample time to decide on a career path. Of course, I knew better than anyone and took upper-level political science classes during my freshman year because it "sounded good."
By the time I realized I didn't truly want to go into politics, I had backed myself into a corner and had to choose between finishing my degree a semester early or switching majors that would delay graduation for a year. While I loved what I've learned in my classes, they probably won't prepare me for the real world unless I become a political analyst for CNN, which is about as likely as Jessica Simpson being my vice-presidential running mate in the 2036 election.
Like most students, you will doubt your major at least five times through your education and seriously consider switching majors about three times. I was in too deep to switch mine, but I compensated by getting involved in organizations and clubs that reflected my new interests. Before you march into your adviser's office and change your curriculum, consider getting experience by internships in your newfound career path. This will save you a complicated process with the registrar and thousands of extra dollars spent on tuition if you delay graduation because of a switched major.
If I could do it all over again, I would most likely make the same mistakes as I leapt into the beginning of adulthood. Though I hope, with this blog, I've spared some determined high school senior or college freshman from making the mistakes I did. A college major is your decision, so don't be pressured by outside sources to choose the "right" major. Follow your heart, learn from life's experiences and choose a major makes you excited to learn!
Follow Chelse Hensley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ChelseHensley